Charters & Choice

Liam Julian

Andrew Rotherham turns in a nice column for Time magazine in which he reports on the findings of a study of the rates of college completion by graduates of the Knowledge is Power Program. The results: 33 percent of pupils who graduated from a KIPP middle school at least ten years ago have also since graduated from a four-year college. It's important to remember, of course, that 95 percent of KIPP students are black or Latino and most are from low-income families; among similar students (black or Latino, and low-income) nationwide, only 8 percent have bachelor's degrees. So though KIPP has failed to meet its goal?75 percent college completion? and failed by a lot, it has nonetheless done well, comparatively.

That is not how KIPP chooses to see it, however. In fact, what's most astounding about this study may well be the refusal of the KIPP brass to twist or spin its findings in any way.? The organization runs middle schools. It could easily have noted that 95 percent of KIPP graduates also graduate high school, which is an unqualified marvel. It might have pointed out that 89 percent of its alumni matriculate at college and that, frankly, the effectiveness of a network of middle schools really shouldn't be determined by college graduation rates. But no. KIPP has, as Rotherham writes, not moved ?the goal posts on its own targets for success,? and it has ?owned ?the outcomes for its graduates? regardless of outside factors beyond the...

Kelley Williams-Bolar made national headlines back in January when she was caught sending her two daughters across district lines from the woeful Akron Public Schools to the plusher Copley-Fairlawn School District. In the name of her cause, pitchforks were raised, battle trumpets were sounded, and petitions were signed?no fewer than eight ?Save Kelley? Facebook pages were created.

And the same predictable tempest has already begun to brew around the case of Tonya McDowell, a Connecticut mother now fined over $15,000 for sending her son to a neighboring, out-of-bounds school district. Probably rightfully so. Both cases offer school-choice advocates clear examples of students and parents hurt by onerous and antiquated districting systems. They both offer a Rosa Parks-like poster child to prove how decent people are being hurt. Williams-Bolar was a student-teacher, working to become licensed in Ohio educator, clearly dedicated to K-12 education. And McDowell is homeless.

Where they diverge, and what is most interesting about McDowell's situation, is in the last word of the previous sentence: homeless.

Per the McKinney-Vento Act (really, it's just 185 pages of NCLB), homeless students must be allowed access to their ?school of origin for the duration of their homelessness.? Details about McDowell's situation have yet to surface, but out of the fog we learn a few key facts: McDowell and her son are homeless, splitting their time between a homeless shelter and a friend's apartment in Bridgeport, CT. To attain access to the Norwalk Public Schools, McDowell...

Big Red ButtonDetroit, with its embarrassingly low NAEP scores, seems to have tried it all: They've gone from an elected school board to one that is mayorally appointed and back again. They've fallen under state control and been assigned an emergency financial manager. They've closed schools, renegotiated teacher contracts, and, most recently, pledged to convert over 30 percent of its schools into charters.

These are all reasonable, actionable initiatives. But none are what DPS needs. The district needs to break the glass and hit the reset button. It needs more than minor tweaks to the collective-bargaining agreement and promises that a few charters will be the kryptonite to the chronic failure that has plagued Motown schools.

As famed Recovery School District leader Paul Vallas frankly put it:

I think what Detroit has to do?they have to right-size themselves. Or the budget spiral is going to continue.? Converting schools that you were thinking of closing to charters, that's not getting at the end-of-the-line financial problems that plague the district.

Golly, that's a smart man.

?Daniela Fairchild...

Following Diane Ravitch on Twitter is sort of like giving a six-year-old a kazoo on a long car trip. You know that by doing so, there's a very strong probability that it will result in near constant aggravation or annoyance. But you do it anyway, because somewhere deep in your troubled psyche you thrive on provocation.

Being provocative isn't always a bad thing ? and Ravitch does it well. Her latest charge to Twitter followers is pretty pointless, though. She suggests a naming contest for charter school names (#charterschoolnames) and then retweets suggestions from followers that range from mildly funny to offensive, especially to the poor, mostly minority families who flee their traditional school for an alternative and who certainly wouldn't categorize themselves as ?privileged.? Here are some of the worst:

  • Dollars First Academy
  • Privilege Academy
  • Test Purgatory Hi-Tech High
  • Letuslineourpockets High
  • Erasure Secondary
  • Dewey, Cheatum & Howe Academy
  • Results By Attrition Network, Inc
  • Wishful Thinking, Heavy Spending Academy
  • I'm Better Than You Academy
  • Village of Stepford Charter School
  • W.A.S.P. Academy (Why Ask Stupid People)
  • TFA Tours

Wow. This ridiculous Twitter anti-charter rant is more like giving the child a drum set. Ohio Gadfly suggests other charter school names that are probably more accurate, at least from the perspective of the families and kids who utilize such options, like ?Kids who would otherwise not have a shot in hell because their current school is failing ACADEMY.?

Flypaper readers, please weigh in with other suggestions...

As you probably know by now, the President and Congress came to a budget agreement late last night that will keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. The deal apparently includes a five-year reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular voucher program for kids in the District:

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program ? which provides low-income District students with federal money to attend private schools ? is a top priority of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The program was closed to new entrants by Democrats in 2009, but Boehner has sought to revive and expand the program. The House passed a Boehner-authored bill last month -- the SOAR Act -- to reauthorize the program for five more years, and that bill will be included in the final spending deal and signed into law by Obama.

The SOAR Act includes the so-called "three sector" payments, meaning that DCPS and public charter schools will also benefit from the program. I worked in the charter financing office in DC last summer and saw how much good those funds have done for the charter sector in the city. This seems like a big win for school choice and all kids in DC.

?Chris Tessone...

Ohio is in the midst of its biennial budget debate and there has been much angst and ink spilled about a proposal in the budget bill (HB 153) to create a ???parent trigger??? for the state's truly woeful schools. The proposal has triggered front page new stories, strongly worded editorials against the idea, and public testimony in House hearings on the budget dismissing the idea as another assault on public schools.

The bill would allow parents to petition a school district to force reforms in a school that, for at least three consecutive years, has been ranked in the lowest 5 percent of all district-operated schools statewide based on its performance index score (which is a measure of student achievement across all grades and subjects). Parents would be allowed to file a petition requesting the district to do one of the following:

  1. Reopen the failing school as a community school,
  2. Replace at least 70 percent of the school's personnel,
  3. Contract with another school district or a nonprofit or for-profit entity with a record of effectiveness to operate the school,
  4. Turn operation of the school over to the state Department of Education, or
  5. Any other restructuring that makes fundamental reforms in the school's staffing or governance.

This is strong medicine for sure, and for truly atrocious schools necessary. Now, the part of the story that has been missed by almost everyone is how few schools this law would actually impact. The bar for triggering...